Did Jesus call God Allah? Is the virgin birth an added legend?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture

Question 1: I’ve heard some Muslims argue that Jesus called God "Allah." Is it true that Jesus called God "Allah" in Aramaic? Question 2: Why does Mark's Gospel not include Jesus' virgin birth considering the fact that it’s the earliest Gospel? Lots of skeptics keep on saying that Paul and Mark didn’t believe in Jesus' virgin birth and that the virgin birth was a later invention to embellish Jesus' story. Would you comment, please?

Answer: Greetings friend. These are good questions — and I’ll answer them right up front. First, Jesus did call God “Allah”… but without giving credence to Islam — and we can do the same… although I don’t recommend that we do so. Second, Mark and Paul believed in the virgin birth despite never saying that directly. Furthermore, I believe that doctrine to be original — and not a legendary add-on.

A few years ago in Malaysia (an Islamic nation which is becoming more Islamic) one of their courts ruled that Christians could not use the term Allah in publications when referring to God. Muslims understand that they mean a particular thing when referring to God by Allah… but they also understand that Christians would mean a different thing when using that name.

I’ll give Malaysia points for protecting against equivocation here. But copywriting (if you will) commonly used words seems like an extreme solution to me as an American… let alone how that tramples free speech.

That being said, I will dodge using the word Allah when referring to the Christian God — but I will do so for practical reasons… and the Malaysian incident illustrates why. You see, even if I prove adequately that Christians have warrant to use the word Allah when referring to God, the word Allah carries too much Islamic baggage here in America… and as a writer, I must ask, why skew a communication by using a loaded word unnecessarily? I only use Allah when talking about God from a Muslim perspective. And although I don’t have to restrict myself like this, it makes sense to do so.

Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in the US, has argued that Christians should not call upon the God of the Bible using the word Allah because Allah refers only to the god of the Quran — a god who is radically different from the true God of Jesus Christ. In this view, the Muslims are worshiping an idol! They are not worshiping the same core God as we… and are just missing a few parts. Yet, when the Jews do the same thing we let them get by with it. The Jews repudiate the Trinity, the virgin birth, and the deity of Jesus Christ … just like the Muslims. But we embrace their version of a monotheistic God… and the term “Judeo-Christian tradition” does not seem to offend us.

I submit to you that Jewish monotheism — but before the Age of Grace — is the appropriate referent for the term Judeo in the Judeo-Christian tradition… but that it has lost that distinction after the revelation of Jesus Christ. If we are going to beat up the Muslims for dismissing such definitive Christian doctrines as the Trinity, the virgin birth and the deity of Jesus Christ while remaining monotheistic, we should treat the Jews the same way… unless we believe that their national identity can save them in this age… and I do not. As such — and except for their cultures — I see no difference between an unsaved Muslim and an unsaved Jew today... but still, I'm dodging the word, Allah.

To address issues of the language more directly, I’ll share the observations of Ryan McAnnally-Linz and Miroslav Volf from their article, Did Jesus Pray to Allah?

AS CHRISTIANS WE are called to follow the truth, regardless of the consequences to ourselves. Indeed, since Jesus is the “truth” (John 14:6), to deny the truth is to deny Christ. Knowingly accepting a falsehood for the sake of pleasant social outcomes is not an option.

Thankfully Mohler and those who agree with him are wrong about Allah. Not only should Christians feel free to use the word “Allah” in their worship of God if it’s natural to do so in their language, but Muslim speech about and worship of “Allah” is not, by definition, worship of a “false god.” But how do we know this?

1. The first thing to say is that no human language can adequately capture God. No words can refer to God in any straightforward way because God is so far beyond creatures like us. All of our conceptions of God fall short. But we often worship these ideas about God in place of God and fall into idolatry ourselves. All our words about the one who dwells in unapproachable light are inadequate. It is only by God’s grace that our thoughts and language are ever truly worship. This constant risk should give us a stance of humility when talking about a subject like this one.

2.  Regarding Christians using the word “Allah,” it is important to recognize that Christianity has always been a fundamentally translatable faith. On the first Pentecost (Acts 2), the believers speaking in tongues (including Arabic, see verse 11) illustrate this feature of Christianity. So does the fact that the New Testament books use common Greek words to translate Aramaic and Hebrew words referring to God. And the English word “God” comes from an Old English word used long before Anglo-Saxons started converting to Christianity. So using generic words for “god” from local languages is just how Christians talk about God. If “Allah” is one such word, then Christians ought to feel free to use it. 

3.  As it turns out, “Allah” is just such a word. It is related to the Aramaic word that Jesus uses for God in Matthew 27:46 when he said “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and would have used frequently throughout his life. If you want to translate the Greek ho theos (literally “the God”) found in John 20:28, Matthew 1:23, and elsewhere, there is no good option in Arabic other than “Allah.” Unsurprisingly then, we have evidence that Arabic-speaking Christians have used “Allah” in their worship and scriptures since at least the 9th century. It’s even possible that they did so before the time of Muhammad (570-632 C.E.). 

4.  However, it is only prudent for Christians to pray to and worship “Allah” if the meanings associated with that word are not radically opposed to what Christians say about God. After all, early Christians didn’t call God “Apollo” or “muse.”

(Ryan McAnnally-Linz and Miroslav Volf, Sojourners, May 2014, https://sojo.net/magazine/may-2014/did-jesus-pray-allah)

I’ll let the McAnnally-Linz and Volf piece above be the last word one your first question. So, let’s turn our attention to your second question about the virgin birth and the Gospel’s mutual inclusions and exclusions.

Don Stewart published an excellent piece on these issues on the Blue Letter Bible website. Since I can’t improve on his content or his concision, I’ll paste his entire article in below. This will be my total answer to your second question.

The virgin birth of Christ is only recorded in two of the four gospels - Matthew and Luke. Mark and John do not mention it. The remainder of the New Testament says nothing about it. If it is such an important belief why don't we find it recorded in the Book of Acts and the writings of Paul?

Did They Know Nothing About It?

Some have argued that two of the Gospel writers, Mark and John, do not record the Virgin Birth because they knew nothing of it. This argument is unconvincing for the following reasons.

Each Addressed A Particular Audience

Each Gospel writer addresses his work to a particular audience and, in doing so, records a different aspect of the life of Christ. Mark is emphasizing that Jesus is the servant of the Lord and that He can do the job God ordained Him to do. Mark says nothing about the first thirty years of the life of Christ. The reason that nothing is said in regard to Jesus' birth or early years because it is not relevant to Mark's purpose.

The same is true with the Gospel of John. John emphasizes that Jesus was God from all eternity. The Gospel begins in eternity past with Jesus already on the scene. John then stresses the fact that Jesus, as God, became a human.

And the word became flesh, and dwelt among us (John 1:14).

Consequently John is emphasizing the sublime truth that God came into the world, not the manner in which He came. He says nothing about Jesus first thirty years.

John Calls Him Jesus Of Nazareth

In John's gospel we find Philip calling Jesus "Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph."

Philip found Nathanael and told him, "We have found the one Moses wrote about in the Law, and about whom the prophets also wrote - Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph" (John 1:45).

However this is irrelevant to the question of the virgin birth of Jesus since John has already told his readers that Jesus existed in the beginning as God.

They Do Not Deny It

Though Mark and John do not expressly state that Jesus was born of a virgin, nowhere do they teach the contrary. They simply give no details concerning His birth.

It Is An Argument From Silence

An argument from silence is usually not a very strong argument. Because someone does not state a fact it does not necessarily follow that that person was unaware of that fact. It may mean the person, for whatever reason, chose not to mention it.

These Two Gospels Imply The Knowledge Of A Virgin Birth

The Gospels of Mark and John imply knowledge of the Virgin Birth without expressly stating it.

Jesus Is The Son Of Mary In Mark

In Luke's gospel Jesus is called the son of Joseph.

All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. "Isn't this Joseph's son?" they asked (Luke 4:22).

Because Luke has already told his readers that Jesus was born of a virgin they understand when people call Jesus the "son of Joseph" in ignorance.

Mark is careful not to use that phrase. Jesus is called the "son of Mary."

"Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary, and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon? Are not His sisters here with us?" And they took offense at Him (Mark 6:3).

Consequently Mark makes the point that Jesus is Mary's son but says nothing about Joseph being the father of Jesus. Therefore he says nothing that would contradict the idea of a virgin birth.

It Was A Cause For Dispute

Jesus' divine origin had been a cause for argumentation with the religious leaders. He told them that His origin was from heaven.

I speak what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have seen with your father (John 8:38).

The Jews responded to this saying that Abraham was their father. Then they made the following accusation at Jesus.

"We were not born of fornication" (John 8:41).

They accused Him of being an illegitimate child. This shows they were aware of the fact that Mary had become pregnant before her marriage to Joseph. This gives further credence to the account of the Virgin Birth as recorded by Matthew, which states that Joseph considered divorcing her privately when he had discovered her pregnancy. In recording this dialogue between Jesus and the religious leaders John implies that the birth of Jesus was not ordinary but came through unusual circumstances. As Matthew and Luke so clearly tell us, it was not Mary's unfaithfulness that made it an unusual birth, but rather the fact that God had performed a miracle having Jesus conceived not by man but by the Holy Spirit.

The Testimony Of Paul

The fact that Paul does not record the virgin birth is not surprising. He does not deal with the story of the life of Christ. However he does say the following about Jesus.

But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law (Galatians 4:4)

Certainly this means more than Jesus had a mother. It could suggest that he had only a human mother but not a human father. However it is also possible that Paul simply meant that Jesus, God the Son, became a genuine human.


The virgin birth of Christ is clearly recorded in two of the four gospels - Matthew and Luke. The other two gospels, Mark and John say nothing about it but John presupposes it in the story of Jesus and the religious rulers. In addition, John says that the Word was manifest in the flesh. Mark, however, says nothing about Jesus early years. However he is careful not to call Jesus "Josephs' son" but rather "Mary's son." Paul says nothing of it because he does not deal with the life of Christ. Consequently the fact that some writers do not mention the virgin conception of Christ does not in any way prove they rejected the doctrine or knew nothing of it.

(Stewart, Don. "Why Do We Find the Virgin Birth Only Recorded in Matthew and Luke?." Blue Letter Bible. 24 Apr, 2007. Web. 10 Jul, 2017. <https://www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_1329.cfm>.)

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